The New American 2016-2017

Page 1

The New American The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans Annual Newsletter · 2016 –2017 Edition · Volume 21

The Most American Americans A reflection on the New American identity

by Andrei Cherny (2000)

An Interview with

Thuy Thi Nguyen (1999) Becoming the first Vietnamese American college president in the United States

An Excerpt from the New Memoir by

Kao Kalia Yang (2003) Chronicling the refugee journey from Laos to Minnesota

Artwork by

Iris Yirei Hu (2016) Visualizing difference and empowerment

The New American 2016–2017 edition volume 21

board of trustees


Daisy M. Soros Chairman

Writing America’s Story Letter from the Editor


Jeffrey Soros President

From the Director


Fellows in Brief


Applications for the Classes of 2017 & 2018


Class of 2016 Biographies


Kenneth Buckfire Peter Georgescu Paul Holdengräber Ann Kirschner David McKinney N.J. Nicholas Jr. Dena Simmons (2010) Peter Soros administration

Fellow Q&A with Thuy Thi Nguyen (1999) Interview by Nikka Landau

Meet Thuy


Craig Harwood Director Yulian Ramos Deputy Director

Cover A ndrei Cherny in Los A ngeles, where his new company is based, 2016. Photo: Brad Swonetz.

Kristina Filipovich (2005) with her mother and grandmother.

Mom’s Advice

Inside covers Detail of installation Pubic Panel Party ft. Jimmie Durham, Kendrick Lamar, emi kuriyama, and the Queen of Cups, 2016. Artist: Iris Yirei Hu (2016), MFA in visual arts candidate at Columbia University. Design Isometric Studio Printing Meridian Printing


Cover Story


The Most American Americans By Andrei Cherny (2000)

The Song Poet An excerpt from the memoir by Kao Kalia Yang (2003)


Trustee Q&A with David McKinney Interview by Kristina Filipovich (2005)


Trustee Q&A with N.J. Nicholas Jr. Interview by Valerie Hickey (2005)


Paul & Daisy Soros Fellows Association Report


Bedside Table Books by Fellows


the best part of my job is telling amazing stories. Whether I’m listening to a Fellow’s memories of her family immigrating to the United States, or looking at a Fellow’s brand-new company, I am privileged to work with some of the most brilliant people in the country. This year, as immigration and immigrants have taken center stage in US politics, this work becomes all the more relevant and critical. We as an organization must step up to ensure that we are telling the stories of immigrants and their children and all that they bring to this country.

Writing America’s Story From the Editor

We turned over the reins to the cover story to Andrei Cherny (1999), who is the founder and CEO of Aspiration, an investment firm for the middle class. Andrei was the youngest White House speechwriter ever when he worked for President Bill Clinton, and between that job and his current firm, he ran for Congress and wrote two books. He’s diving into what it means to be a New American and what obligations come with being one of our country’s newest members. This year we’re delighted to finally get our hands on Kao Kalia Yang’s (2003) newest book, The Song Poet: A Memoir of My Father, which follows her father’s epic journey from his childhood in Laos tohis current retirement in Minnesota. We also want to let the world know about our very own Thuy Thi Nguyen (1999), who is the new president of Foothill College. Thuy is the first Vietnamese American college president in the country. You’ll also find interviews with beloved Trustees David E. McKinney and N. J. Nicholas Jr., as well as plenty of highlights from the year in Fellows in Brief.

This page Fellows tour the Lower East Side of New York City during the 2015 Fall Conference. Photo: Julie Brown. Opposite Craig Harwood speaks at the 2015 Fall Conference. Photo: Christopher Smith.

We’re pleased to present you with this twentyfirst issue of The New American, which we’ve done our best to fill with the stories that define our community and honor the accomplishments of immigrants and children of immigrants. We’d love to hear what you think. Write to us! Nikka Landau

The New New A American The merican

From the Director it has been a particularly tough year. Between the refugee crisis in Europe and the Middle East, terrorist attacks across the globe, the loss of innocent black lives and police lives, and a raw and divisive election cycle full of anti-immigrant rhetoric, there is little that feels settled. At times, I’ve wanted to retreat, to spend less time with the news, less time discussing, and less time exploring the implications. But each day, I come to work and our Paul & Daisy Soros Fellows challenge me, both as a director and as a person, to dig deeper and to do more. That’s because our Fellows are working on the most important issues of our time: justice, equality, safety, health. Fellows are dedicating their lives and careers to these issues. Whether it’s Eunice Cho’s (2007) work at the Southern Poverty Law Center, on immigration detention and mass incarceration; the innovative steps Cyrus Habib (2007) has taken as a Washington State senator; the activism-inspired compositions of Lei Liang (2002); the economic studies by Maxim Pinkovskiy (2008) and Parag Pathak (2003); the pioneering impact-investing work of Amit Bouri (2006); or the research by Roxana Daneshjou (2014) and Pardis Sabeti (2001) on the Iranian Genome Project—our community of Fellows is

2016–2017 edition volume 21

bursting with the hard work that is necessary for society to grow, change, and progress. Their work is difficult, but it is also inspiring, and it demonstrates how incredibly important immigrants and their children are to this nation. Their work is why we here at The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans must continue to grow and strengthen our community. We have broadened the Fellowships’ reach and message by working with news outlets and universities to write more stories than ever about the Fellows. For example, this year CNNMoney wrote feature stories on seven of our Fellows. We also have connected with mission-aligned organizations to help spread the word of the Fellowships, and worked with Fellows to help them craft and share their ideas and work in national media. We have a larger mission in amplifying the Fellows’ work. Not only do we want the public to see the many ways in which our Fellows improve society, we aim to underscore the benefit that New Americans bring to our country and our world. Craig Harwood, Director


fellows in brief 2000

Tamar Friedmann When it comes to math, π has to be one of the most beloved symbols. So when Tamar Friedmann discovered the seventeenth-century Wallis formula for pi in a quantum mechanics formula for the hydrogen atom’s energy states, in 2015, the π lovers’ world went crazy. Tamar and her collaborator, Carl Hagen, are the very first scientists to have ever derived the π formula in physics. Their discovery came almost 360 years after the book Arithmetica Infinitorum, written in Latin by mathematician John Wallis, was published. Tamar, who is a visiting assistant professor of mathematics and a research associate of physics at the University of Rochester, was born in Israel and immigrated to the United States at the age of thirteen.

The New American

Christopher Smith

discovering the pi formul a


Mitra Ebadolahi a dvocating at the sa n diego bor der for the aclu

Top Mitra and her family at her brother’s wedding in October 2015. Mitra, who became a US citizen in 2000, describes her family as integral to who she is. Photo: Malcolm Yawn. Center Mitra (left) hugs her client Yadira Felix. Mitra accompanied Yadira and her grandmother and other unlawfully deported ACLU clients when they returned to the United States from Mexico after the successful settlement of a class action lawsuit in 2014. Photo: Rebecca Rauber.

Karina Louise

Mitra Ebadolahi has been a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union since 2011. After two years in New York City with the ACLU’s National Security Project, she moved to San Diego in 2013 to help launch the new Border Litigation Project. Mitra has been a leader in bringing justice to immigrant communities in the United States through impact litigation challenging civil and human rights violations along the border with Mexico. The photo on the right is from August 2014, when Mitra and her cocounsel met the lead plaintiffs in Lopez-Venegas v. Johnson and helped them recross into the United States from Tijuana following a successful class action settlement. In 2016 the American Immigration Lawyers Association honored Mitra and her colleague James Duff Lyall with the Arthur C. Helton Human Rights Award for the Border Litigation Project.

2016–2017 edition volume 21



A model of First Office’s submission to MoM A PS1’s annual competition for young architects.


Anna Neimark

One of the most prestigious competitions in the architecture world is MoMA PS1’s annual competition for young architects—which is why Anna Neimark and her team at her Los Angeles– based firm, First Office, were overjoyed when they were selected as finalists. The honor came just after they received the 2015 Architectural League Prize and the Architect’s Newspaper’s 2015 Best Young Architects award. They based their competition proposal on a dolmen, a prehistoric structure, because of its gravity- and time-defying qualities. Anna, who is a Russian-born naturalized citizen, is also a faculty member at the University of Southern California School of Architecture.

The New American

Southern California Institute of Architecture

bringing a new voice to a rchitecture

Above Having attended MIT as both an undergraduate and graduate student, Omar (left) has called the school home for more than six years. He has worked in the Zhang Lab (pictured here) for two years. Photo: Scott Sassone.


Omar Abudayyeh

Below A Cas9 protein model that Omar and his colleagues created using a 3D printer. Photo: Scott Sassone.

authoring grou n dbrea king re sea rch on gene editing Few scientists are closer to the groundbreaking research on the gene-editing technology CRISPR than Omar Abudayyeh, who works in Feng Zhang’s lab at the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT. While CRISPR research initially focused on altering DNA, a new study from the Zhang Lab demonstrates how the system can be applied to RNA—further expanding its potential impact on the worlds of science, medicine, and engineering. Omar was a co-first-author of the study. Born in Raleigh, North Carolina, to engineers of Palestinian and Jordanian descent, he is an MD/PhD student in the HarvardMIT Health Sciences and Technology program.

2016–2017 edition volume 21




Abdul El-Sayed

wor king for public hea lth in detroit When it was suggested by a presidential hopeful, in November 2015, that Muslims carry IDs, Abdul El-Sayed tweeted a photo of his City of Detroit employee badge and wrote, “My #MuslimID, I use it to serve the City of Detroit as Health Director & promote the health of my neighbors.” In the face of anti-Muslim rhetoric, Abdul’s rise—he is thirtyone years old—and his example as a doctor and government servant are all the more powerful and inspiring. In his new position, Abdul, the son of Egyptian immigrants and a Michigan native, has started solving the problems that he had long been studying.

Right A bdul (facing camera, left) strategizes with Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan. A graduate of Columbia University, A bdul is the youngest health commissioner of a major US city.

The New American


Pakou Hang orga nizing hmong a merica n fa rmers

Top Pakou (center, in yellow shirt) with growers at the Saint Paul Farmers’ Market. Pakou’s organization is committed to creating a sustainable local food economy, and an important element of its work happens at farmers’ markets throughout the Twin Cities. Photo: Mike Hazard. Above Pa kou spea k s to the T w i n Cities Boards a nd Commissions Leadership Institute’s graduating class in April 2016. Photo: Lynette LaFontaine.

2016–2017 edition volume 21

Pakou Hang grew up selling vegetables in the farmers’ markets of the Twin Cities. Like many other Hmong refugees in the region, her family built a future for themselves through farming—a career that Pakou has dedicated herself to preserving for future generations of Hmong Americans in Minnesota. In 2011 she cofounded the Hmong American Farmers Association, a nonprofit that helps Hmong farmers participate in a local food economy that works for everyone and builds community wealth for all. HAFA also runs a 155-acre farm, which the organization leases to local Hmong farmers.


The New American


Xee, one of the farmers who subleases land at H A FA’s 155-acre farm, gathers kale. Born in a refugee camp, Pakou Hang cofounded the Hmong A merican Farmers Association in 2011. Photo: M i ke Ha za rd.

2016–2017 edition volume 21




Parwiz Abrahimi Kidney, liver, lung, and heart transplant success rates are limited because the human body recognizes and rejects the cells that line the new organ’s blood vessels. To prevent this, clinicians suppress the organ recipient’s immune system, which then can lead to the development of opportunistic infections and cancers. Yale University MD/PhD trainee Parwiz Abrahimi is researching and trying to reengineer the proteins in the blood vessel lining that lead to recognition by the immune system. The picture above is a histological image from his research of the first tissue-engineered “immunoevasive” human blood vessels perfused with red blood cells. Parwiz’s research supports a new paradigm in clinical transplantation that manipulates organs to prevent rejection without the need to suppress the recipient’s immune system.

The New American

Cathy Shufro

reengineering proteins to increase orga n tr a nspl a n t succe ss

Modern Electron


Tony Pan na noengineering a ffor da ble electricit y As a coinventor behind over 120 patents and patent applications in everything from energy, nanotechnology, electronics, and biomedical devices, it’s no surprise that Tony Pan cofounded and became CEO of a revolutionary new company in 2015. Tony’s new venture? Modern Electron, a startup in Bellevue, Washington, that has raised more than $10 million to prototype and scale a compact, efficient heat-to-electricity generator. Tony and his cofounder, Max Mankin, who met while pursuing their PhDs at Harvard, are building a modular, scalable, and powerful nanoengineered generator that has the potential to make electricity cheap and more accessible worldwide. Coincidentally, 60 percent of Modern Electron’s current team are first-generation immigrants.

Above Tony, a World Economic Forum Global Shaper, speaks at the Annual Meeting of the New Champions in Tianjin, China, 2014. Photo: Faruk Pinjo. Right Tony and his Modern Electron team suit up to fabricate a generator component at their nanoscience facility in Seattle.

2016–2017 edition volume 21


“I can honestly say that my fellow Paul & Daisy Soros Fellows have inspired me to move closer to the person that I want to be.” VIVEK MURTH Y (1998),


Paul and Daisy Soros.

The New American

APPLICATIONS FOR THE CLASSES OF 2017 & 2018 The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships are open to New Americans of outstanding achievement. Fellows receive up to $90,000 over one to two years for full-time graduate study in any discipline or profession at a US graduate institution. For more information and to apply online, go to APPLICATIONS DUE


November 1 at 11:59 pm EST

A New American (a naturalized citizen, a green card holder, or approved for DACA if born abroad; a child of immigrants if born in this country).


Not yet 31 years old, as of the application deadline.


Last week of January and the first week of February

Not beyond your second year — if already enrolled — in the graduate program for which you request support.


The program values a commitment to the US Constitution and Bill of Rights. PAUL & DAISY SOROS FELLOWS A N NOUNCED


2016–2017 edition volume 21

The Fellowships program promotes a strong sense of community among Fellows and alumni through fall conferences and numerous events held throughout the country.



The recipients of the 2016 Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans were selected from more than 1,400 applicants. They reflect the diversity of recent immigrants, with parents from 21 countries. The Fellows earned their bachelor’s degrees at 18 different institutions.

Class of

Photos by Christopher Smith

Abubakar Abid

Award to support work toward a PhD in electrical engineering at Stanford University One of Abubakar’s oldest childhood memories is his parents quizzing him on math and science questions during their weekly three-hour drive from Friendship, Wisconsin, where he grew up, to Chicago, where they were able to take part in a large Pakistani community. Abubakar’s parents, physicians who came to the United States from Pakistan in the 1990s, felt it was their duty to ensure Abubakar

have a strong technical education. During middle school and high school, thanks to his parents and teachers, Abubakar excelled in math and physics competitions. After entering MIT, he began applying the same analytical approaches to problems in biology and medicine, developing new kinds of probes to read neural signals and working on ways to make it easier for doctors to diagnose respiratory conditions by developing new, noninvasive, and easyto-perform tests. As a PhD student at Stanford, Abubakar will work on building medical devices that can stay in the human body for extended periods of time to provide unique, patient-specific biomedical information that can help diagnose diseases and provide real-time feedback to patients.

The New American

Chidiebere Akusobi

Award to support work toward an MD/ PhD in infectious disease at Harvard Medical School Born in Nigeria, Chidi immigrated with his mother to the United States when he was two. They reunited with his father, who had immigrated two years earlier. His parents left Nigeria due to political and economic strife and settled in the South Bronx, where they worked to build a better life for their children and the family they’d left behind in Nigeria. As a child, Chidi dreamed

of becoming a physician despite attending underresourced inner-city public schools where going to college was not the norm. He attributes the start of his academic journey to the Prep for Prep program, which prepared him to attend Horace Mann School, a private school in the Bronx. Chidi attended Yale University, where he majored in ecology and evolutionary biology and led science outreach programs. His senior thesis, on phage-host interactions, won the William R. Belknap prize for excellence in biological studies. After graduating, Chidi was awarded a Gates Cambridge Scholarship to pursue an MPhil in biochemistry from the University of Cambridge. He is involved with the WhiteCoat4BlackLives movement and the Student National Medical Association.

Binbin Chen

Award to support work toward an MD/ PhD in genetics at Stanford University When Binbin was ten, his father was imprisoned by the local Chinese government and sentenced to seven years in prison. His mother fled to the United States. After seven years of trying, Binbin was finally able to obtain his US visa and join his mother. Soon after arriving, he started studying at the Georgia Institute of Technology, where he was a biomedical engineering major.

He published a firstauthor paper in the Journal of Translational Medicine as a sophomore and was awarded a Barry Goldwater Scholarship. As a senior, Binbin helped organize Georgia Tech’s first LGBT graduation reception, which was covered by the Atlanta NPR station.

Du Cheng

After graduating, Binbin deferred medical school for a year to conduct research in Johannesburg, South Africa. He investigated a bimolecular method to assess HIV patients’ drug adherence and observed the social stigma against HIV patients and those who identified as LGBT. This experience led to his advocacy for LGBT health during his medical school training.

Award to support work toward an MD/PhD in neuroscience at the Weill Cornell/Rockefeller/Sloan Kettering Tri-Institutional MD-PhD Program

Binbin works in the lab of Russ Altman and Ash Alizadeh, where he is developing bioinformatics tools to understand patient responses to immunotherapy. He is the copresident of Stanford LGBT Meds, which aims to address the health disparity among LGBT patient populations.

Born and raised in Zhengzhou, China, Du found himself constantly frustrated by the education system’s emphasis on memorization. Du wanted to debate, research, invent, and create. When he moved to the United States, halfway through his college career, to attend Humboldt State University, he felt he could finally give back to the world of knowledge he had spent so long simply regurgitating. Du began microbiology and stem cell research, which led to eleven

2016–2017 edition volume 21

publications in peerreviewed journals, four of them as the first author. College was also where Du developed his first invention. Looking around a lab, he saw his fellow students attempting to take photos through their microscopes without much success due to optical alignment issues. Du now owns a company that manufactures products, including the iDu Optics microscope adapter for iPhone, based on his inventions. As a medical student and PhD candidate in the Weill Cornell/Rockefeller/ Sloan Kettering TriInstitutional Program, Du has designed an innovation curriculum and taught his own courses on the topic. He has instructed over 100 physicians and medical students in 3D printing. Du is pursuing his PhD research in Cori Bargmann’s lab at the Rockefeller University.

Eric Chung

Award to support work toward a JD at Yale Law School Born to Chinese parents who emigrated from Vietnam to Canada and then to the United States after the Vietnam War, Eric grew up in Madison Heights, a small city near Detroit, where he witnessed first hand the importance of education as a life-changing source of mobility. Inspired by his parents’ sacrifices to ensure a better life for their children, and by the many undeterred students and teachers in his hometown who made the most of limited resources, Eric has made it his mission to use his own education to help others access theirs.

Eric received his AB, summa cum laude, from Harvard University, where he studied comparative social policy. He served as a Pamela Harriman Foreign Service Fellow at the US Mission to the OECD and organized a field study on educational equality in Finland. Eric became certified as an educator with the Harvard Graduate School of Education and taught civics for South Boston and Boston Chinatown immigrants. He has worked on social policy issues with a range of government institutions, including the Massachusetts Senate, US Department of State, and the White House. Now a student at Yale Law School, Eric is a student director of two clinics: the Education Adequacy Project, which represents disadvantaged youth in an educational rights case, and the Supreme Court Advocacy Clinic.



Shadi Ghaheri

Award to support work toward an MFA in theater direction at Yale School of Drama Born and raised in Tehran, Shadi both loved her cosmopolitan home and felt stifled by the constant expectations placed on her as a woman. While attending Shahid Beheshti University, where she founded the theater club and was one of the first women to direct campus theater, Shadi became a pioneer for women in the arts. In 2011 she moved to California, with the dream of becoming a theater director. She started acting, assistant directing, and directing at Saddleback College, Long Beach Playhouse, and Hollywood Fringe, where she worked with Robert Prior and

Bill McGuire. While accumulating accolades and diving into the Western canon, Shadi was fearlessly learning to act and direct in English and supporting herself with parttime jobs alongside her schoolwork. Today Shadi is in the second year of the Yale School of Drama’s MFA program in theater directing, which is the most selective program of its kind in the United States. She is currently working on a new play (written for the Langston Hughes Festival) and her Shakespeare project, Titus Andronicus. Shadi is known for her ability to reframe a story or a stage so that audiences can see new perspectives emerge. As a theater director, she wants to tell the untold stories of women in pain and captivity.

The New American

Daily Guerrero

Award to support work toward a JD at Columbia Law School From an early age, Daily developed a passion for understanding crosscultural conflicts and how people adapt to living in a new country. She envisions a career that allows her to use her narrative and advocacy skills to empower immigrants. Her dream is to become both an author and an attorney. Daily was six years old when she immigrated to the United States with her mother from the Dominican Republic. She grew up in Utica, New York, a place the New York Times called “a city of refugees” because a quarter of the population is made up of people who have fled other countries.

She left Utica to attend Harvard University, where she founded the Dominican Student Association, organized a three-day conference for over 500 Dominican students and professionals, and became the deputy campaign manager for the first Latino City Council member and, subsequently, vice mayor of Cambridge, Massachusetts. After earning her bachelor’s degree, Daily went straight to Columbia Law School. At Columbia she joined the new Immigrants’ Rights Clinic as a Spanish interpreter and later as a student attorney. Working with a clinic partner, she represented a political asylum seeker in a detention center and, in just a month and a half, learned how to conduct a trial and won his case. She is pursuing a public interest career.

Nairi Hartooni

Award to support work toward a PhD in biochemistry and molecular biology at UC San Francisco Born in Tehran, Nairi is a member of an Armenian minority who have lived in Iran for centuries. Her parents, who were the first generation to live outside their familial village and receive a formal education, noticed that post-revolution Iran would not fairly offer their daughter educational opportunities. They moved to Glendale, California, where Nairi grew up surrounded by immigrants seeking a better life. Despite their financial struggles and language barrier, the Hartooni family often visited local museums, the observatory, and the public library

for free educational events. Through these visits, Nairi became fascinated by biology and began her journey in pursuing a career as a research scientist. As an undergraduate at the University of California, Berkeley, Nairi was a Regents’ and Chancellor’s Scholar and double-majored in molecular biology and toxicology. While at Berkeley, she conducted research in plant evolution and worked several jobs, including a position at the state’s Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Branch, to fund her undergraduate career. Nairi started the Toxicology Student Association and designed an outreach program called the Lead Education and Awareness Program at Berkeley. The group conducted several outreach efforts including a day of K–12 public science education at the local science museum.

Eran Hodis

Award to support work toward an MD/PhD in biophysics at Harvard University and MIT Born in Haifa, Israel, Eran is the son of Israeli immigrants. When his father’s employer offered relocation to the United States, his parents jumped at the chance to pursue the American dream and one day become US citizens. Fascinated by math and science from a young age, Eran relished any opportunity he had to pursue advanced coursework as he progressed through the Massachusetts public school system. After earning a bachelor’s in math and biology from Boston University, where he was a University Scholar, Eran returned to Israel to study

2016–2017 edition volume 21

computational biology as a graduate student at the Weizmann Institute of Science. When his mother was diagnosed with cancer, he moved back to Boston to be with his immediate family and resolved to refocus his research efforts on cancer. Eran’s subsequent research in cancer genomics at the Broad Institute and the DanaFarber Cancer Institute has led to landmark advances in the field. His work has been published in Nature, Science, Cell, and Nature Genetics, and has been highlighted on the front page of the New York Times. Outside the research lab, he cocreated and cotaught a highly rated course in computational biology at Harvard College. His ongoing training is supported by the National Institutes of Health through the Medical Scientist Training Fellowship and by Harvard through the Herchel Smith Fellowship.

Akbar Hossain

Franklin & Marshall College, he served low-income refugee families in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, through the United Way and worked on asylum cases for persecuted clients with the Pennsylvania Immigration Resource Center.

Award to support work toward a JD at the University of Pennsylvania Law School Akbar was born in Bangladesh and later moved to Saudi Arabia, where his father was a migrant worker. His family immigrated to the United States on September 9, 2001, through the Diversity Visa lottery. After the death of his father, Akbar learned the importance of perseverance and community, as members of his hometown, Norristown, Pennsylvania, supported and helped raise his family. As a first-generation college graduate, Akbar credits his accomplishments to the sacrifices of his parents and the encouragement of his community. While at

A 2012 Truman Scholar, Akbar has interned for the White House and the US Department of Homeland Security and served as a TrumanAlbright Fellow at the Department of Health and Human Services. He serves on the Young Friends Steering Committee for KIPP Philadelphia Schools and has been appointed by the Norristown Municipal Council to serve on the city’s Planning Commission. Akbar hopes to combine his legal, nonprofit, and personal experiences into a role as an advocate for low-income communities and perhaps one day serve in local elected office.



Iris Yirei Hu

Award to support work toward an MFA in visual arts at Columbia University Iris was born in Los Angeles to Taiwanese parents. She grew up learning about the traumatic effects of the Chinese Civil War and World War II that her elders experienced and from which they were displaced. These family memories motivated Iris to share stories of belonging through her artwork. However, her family had internalized a narrow definition of success that privileged practicality and financial stability. Iris never imagined the possibility of being an artist. At UCLA, Iris was drawn to feminist discourse, as she was struck by art that questioned who

held the power to write history, make images, and produce culture, and for whom. She began writing and painting colorful, large-scale images that reimagined her familial and cultural participation in displacement, diaspora, community, and love. Iris’s experiences have led her to work with classroom teachers and immigrant and firstgeneration American students at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. In 2013 she cofounded the experimental art publication baumtest, which explores ways to connect and empower artists of diverse backgrounds, for which she received a Rema Hort Mann Foundation YoYoYo Artist Grant. Iris has exhibited her work in national and international galleries, artist-run spaces, and public settings. She is currently completing her MFA in visual arts at Columbia University, after which she hopes to rearrange and revolutionize our ways of experiencing difference.

The New American

Sharada Jambulapati

Award to support work toward a JD at UC Berkeley School of Law Sharada is the daughter of Indian immigrants who came to the United States in search of educational opportunities for their children. Her family struggled to acclimate to the Deep South as her father worked as the only immigrant farmer in the region and her mother shuffled between jobs as a seamstress, janitor, and nanny. Growing up on a farm in rural Georgia, Sharada experienced the complex web of dependence, racial backlash, and willful ignorance of the immigrant experience, which instilled in her a deep commitment to pursue civil rights and racial justice work

in the Deep South. At Stanford University, she deepened her passion for community organizing and activism. She mentored high school youth, created awareness on campus about immigrant human rights, and researched the civil rights abuses of immigration enforcement programs. After college, Sharada worked for the Southern Poverty Law Center as a John Gardner Public Service Fellow. She investigated civil rights abuses for legal complaints that aimed to improve jail conditions for children, highlight the impact of zero tolerance school policies, and increase school access for undocumented students. By working at the intersection of the immigration and criminal justice systems, Sharada hopes to continue civil rights advocacy and racial justice work on behalf of historically underserved minority communities in the South.

Ania Jaroszewicz

Award to support work toward a PhD in behavioral decision research at Carnegie Mellon University Born in California, Ania is the daughter of Polish immigrants. Troubled by the political and economic climate of Communist Poland, her parents seized an attractive job opportunity at a prestigious American university, arriving in the United States a few years before Ania was born. Like many immigrants, however, they soon learned that education and hard work do not guarantee financial success. Without the safety net that cultural and social capital helps ensure, her parents struggled to weather a series of financial

shocks. After seeing the psychological impact of this financial hardship on her family, she became devoted to understanding the psychology of poverty. Ania began formally pursuing these interests in her undergraduate career at the University of California, Berkeley, where she doublemajored in economics and psychology. After graduating, she worked at the White House Council on Environmental Quality and the consumer protection division of the Federal Trade Commission. She also volunteered extensively with a microfinance organization operating in Kenya and a transitional housing center in Washington, DC. Ania hopes to combine her firsthand experiences with financial struggle, her secondhand observations from her professional and volunteer work, and her training in economics and psychology to help combat poverty through research.

Zihao Jiang

Award to support work toward a PhD in physics at Stanford University Zihao was born and raised in Shaoxing, China, where his father found work as an engineer following the Cultural Revolution. On trips back to Zihao’s father’s hometown, Zihao and his father would visit the small schoolhouse atop a mountain where Zihao’s father spent the duration of the Cultural Revolution living in poverty and teaching. At a time when intellectuals were at the bottom of the social hierarchy, Zihao’s father quietly filled his hours learning and waiting for the doors to a higher education to open.

2016–2017 edition volume 21

Fulfilling his father’s dreams, Zihao moved to Illinois at the age of nineteen to attend the University of Chicago. He pursued his fascination with physics and joined several laboratories as an undergraduate. His outstanding research earned him several publications, as well as the John Haeseler Lewis Prize and a Grainger Foundation Fellowship, both of which are reserved for the university’s best physics student. Zihao leaped at an opportunity to participate in the ATLAS experiments, one of the two major experiments at the Large Hadron Collider at the CERN laboratory in Switzerland, where he currently lives and works. As a secondyear physics PhD student at Stanford, Zihao operates the ATLAS detector and mines and studies the massive amounts of physics data that the Collider is producing.

Leen Katrib

Award to support work toward an MArch at Princeton University Leen was born in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, to Syrian and Lebanese immigrants. Her memory of the architectural, economic, and social inequalities between Sharjah’s concentration of forced migrants and Dubai’s rapid urbanization developed her passion for architecture and urbanism. After receiving numerous threats of deportation to Syria, Leen and her family relocated to West Virginia when she was fourteen to pursue permanent legal presence for the first time. In 2014 Leen received a bachelor of architecture degree with honors

from the University of Southern California, where she was awarded the A. Quincy Jones Memorial Scholarship for Exceptional Promise in Architecture and the Robert Allen Rogaff Memorial Award for Excellence in Delineation. She was also designated a Discovery Scholar and a Global Scholar for her independent research on immigrant suburbanization. Leen was awarded the George H. Mayr Traveling Fellowship to study the future of immigrants in Parisian suburbs, as well as the William and Neoma Timme Traveling Fellowship to examine mimetic suburban practices in China’s countryside. Her work was recently published in Pidgin, a journal of architectural theory at Princeton University, and exhibited in an architecture and design gallery in Los Angeles. Leen plans to become an academic, a writer, and an architect leading her own postdisciplinary practice.



Veronica Manzo

Award to support work toward an MD at the Stanford School of Medicine Veronica was born in California to Mexican parents. Her family emigrated from small towns in MichoacĂĄn and Jalisco to the United States to seek opportunity and employment as farmworkers, picking crops in the fields of Northern California. From their early struggles in America, Veronica learned about the value of hard work and the difficulties present in the healthcare system. She attended Harvard, where she studied neurobiology and global health and health policy. She conducted research on glioblastoma multiforme, a deadly

brain tumor, which was published in Nature. Following graduation, Veronica continued conducting research at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute/Broad Institute to build her knowledge of genetics. Concurrently, she volunteered for Global Oncology, as a leader in developing patient education materials to improve communication and cancer care in resourcelimited settings. Veronica is now pursuing an MD at the Stanford School of Medicine, where she has served as cochair of the Latino Medical Student Association and tailored her coursework to focus on cancer biology and community health. Last summer Veronica helped implement key preventive medicine programs at the Ravenswood Family Health Center in East Palo Alto, California, a federally qualified health center that provides healthcare to all patients regardless of their immigration status or ability to pay.

The New American

Denisse R. Marquez

Award to support work toward an MD at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Denisse envisions a healthcare system where no individual is excluded. Growing up as an undocumented immigrant, she and her family had limited healthcare options and, as a result, they would often delay treatment for illnesses. Through these experiences, she was inspired to become a doctor in underserved communities. Denisse was ten months old when she and her family left Mexico for the United States. As residents of Fremont, California, her family found new opportunities that enabled Denisse to attend college. Due to her immigration status, she was ineligible for

financial aid and was discouraged that no career counselor could offer guidance. Moreover, Denisse was painfully separated from family members who, as a result of stalled policies on immigration, left for Canada. Denisse remained steadfast in her aspirations and cofounded Pre-Health Dreamers to provide advising, resources, and advocacy for undocumented youth. PHD currently reaches 652 members in 41 states. Through Denisse’s leadership, PHD cosponsored legislation to allow California licensing boards to award professional licenses to undocumented professionals. In 2015 Denisse became the first undocumented student to attend the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. She will devote herself to a life of service through clinical care and policy work.

Goran Micevic

Award to support work toward an MD/PhD in pathology at Yale School of Medicine Goran was born in Chicago, to a family of Yugoslavian physicians on a temporary research fellowship in the United States. Soon after his parents’ fellowship concluded, the family had to return to Yugoslavia, where Goran grew up in the midst of turmoil and war. When he graduated from high school, he decided to leave Serbia to pursue his passion for medicine and science in the United States. With $500 to his name, Goran arrived at Iowa State University, where he went on to study how histone modifications regulate gene expression. His appetite for

research earned him visiting fellowships at the German Cancer Research Center and Mayo Clinic, which fortified his determination to become a physician-scientist. After graduating from Iowa State, Goran enrolled in the Yale MD/PhD program and began investigating melanoma epigenetics in the department of experimental pathology. His research has led to awards from the Joanna M. Nicolay Melanoma Foundation and the American Skin Association, as well as a fellowship from the National Cancer Institute. Goran continues investigating the role of epigenetics in melanoma formation and progression. As a future physicianscientist, he plans to enroll in a researchfocused residency that will allow him to revolutionize the way data is used in modern oncology.

Jenna Nicholas

Award to support work toward an MBA at Stanford Graduate School of Business Of Western European and Iranian heritage, Jenna was born in New York City but spent most of her formative years in London. Inspired by the bold pioneering spirit of enterprise, positivity, and action so prized in the American dream, she decided to return to the United States for college. She was accepted into Stanford University for her undergraduate studies and truly felt she had come back home. In her freshman year, Jenna learned about the idea of investment for social good in a graduate class she was taking. This model captured her imagination. She says Stanford business

2016–2017 edition volume 21

school’s motto— “Change lives, change organizations, and change the world”— is very much in line with her ethos. Jenna has worked with many leaders in the impact-investing field, including the World Bank and Calvert Special Equities. She projectmanages the DivestInvest Philanthropy initiative and works extensively in China in this nascent field. Jenna has been enrolled in the MBA program at Stanford since September 2015. In addition to her studies, she plans to continue to grow her impactinvesting firm, Phoenix Global Impact, to unlock greater pools of capital into socially minded enterprises.

Lindsey Osimiri

in grade school. However, as an MIT undergraduate, she discovered her passion for computer science and engineering. These diverse interests led her to the field of systems biology, where quantitative methods are applied to characterize biological systems.

Award to support work toward a PhD in bioenginnering at UC Berkeley and UC San Francisco Born in Texas, Lindsey is the daughter of Nigerian immigrants. Her parents left Nigeria in the 1980s to seek educational and economic opportunity in America. As a child, Lindsey watched her mother return to school to pursue a medical degree and her father run his own business, all while supporting four children and family in Nigeria. Through their example, Lindsey learned the importance of perseverance and the value of education.

While at MIT, Lindsey worked in several research labs and contributed to multiple publications. After graduation, she worked at Selventa, a systems biology consulting company, as a computational biology research associate. In that role, she used computational analyses and bioinformatics to make recommendations for multiple pharmaceutical companies and academic collaborators. Lindsey plans to use algorithms to analyze and predict the functions of complex biological systems in her research, and later return to industry to create tools to make biological research more efficient.

Inspired by her mother’s dedication to medicine, Lindsey focused on studying biology



Akash Patel

Award to support work toward a JD at the University of Michigan Born in London, Akash is the son of Indian immigrants. His family moved from India to England and then to the United States in the early 1990s in search of better opportunities. Akash was less than two years old when he arrived in America but was not afforded citizenship until the age of twenty-three. Protracted wait times meant that Akash’s family lived as undocumented immigrants for sixteen years until they could adjust their status. But Akash’s inspiration has always been the struggle and triumph of his sister, Nisha, who aged out of her petition to receive

her green card but went on to pursue a PhD in microbiology at the University of Oklahoma, where Akash received his undergraduate degree. As a result, Akash founded Aspiring Americans as part of his honors research project at OU to assist other undocumented students in Oklahoma. The organization has raised over $200,000 in grants, scholarships, and in-kind resources. In addition, he has enjoyed working with Oklahoma City Public Schools by serving on the Lau Planning Committee as well as the Superintendent’s Diversity Council to ensure that all diverse student groups have equitable educational outcomes. Akash is pursuing law in order to combine his community organizing experience and a legal acumen to advocate for all those who do not have a voice in the immigration and educational systems.

The New American

Suhas Rao

Award to support work toward an MD/PhD in biomedical science at Stanford University Born in Massachusetts, Suhas is the son of Indian immigrants who came to the United States in the 1980s. Thanks to his parents, both chemists turned software engineers, Suhas grew up immersed in science and developed a love for the pursuit of knowledge and discovery. While working at the Broad Institute as a Harvard undergraduate, Suhas became invigorated by the potential of the genomics revolution to drive forward a new age in precision medicine and patient care. However, while working as a staff member at the Harvard Square Homeless

Shelter, he realized that revolutions in healthcare weren’t particularly useful if they weren’t accessible to those who need it most. His desire to be at the forefront of biomedical research, but also to work to effectively translate this research into clinical practice, led him toward a career as a physician-scientist. After graduating from Harvard, Suhas continued his research on the threedimensional structure of the genome at the Broad Institute and Baylor College of Medicine, resulting in two co-first-authored publications in Cell and PNAS. This work, which resulted in the highest-resolution maps of the 3D genome to date and revealed numerous structural principles of genome folding, was featured on NPR and in TIME, the Atlantic, Forbes, and Scientific American, and was lauded on the floor of the US House of Representatives. Currently, Suhas is pursuing an MD/PhD at Stanford University School of Medicine.

Aisha Saad

Award to support work toward a JD at Yale Law School Aisha was born in Cairo and immigrated to the United States with her family in the early 1990s. She was raised on an Islamic concept of tawhid, the unity of all creation, and in a community and family that expressed this tenet through service and compassion. During her early childhood in Egypt and summer visits growing up, Aisha witnessed industrial development and its disparate impacts on a global scale. During a summer project in Bhopal, India, in 2008, Aisha visited Union Carbide’s industrial disaster site and the ongoing legal campaigns for justice. She became

captivated by the corporate form and its social and environmental impacts. After graduating from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Aisha pursued master’s and doctorate degrees at the University of Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, focusing on public challenges to the modern corporation and the development of effective corporate responsibility regimes. Aisha then spent two years as an assistant professor at the American University in Cairo, helping launch a master’s in sustainable development and teaching courses on corporate social responsibility and social and environmental policy. Aisha is dedicated to advancing progressive scholarship focusing on the legal theory of the corporation and to representing marginalized communities through impact litigation in cases of environmental and corporate injustice.

Aya Saed

Award to support work toward a JD at Harvard Law School and an MA in public affairs at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University Aya was born in Riyadh to Sudanese parents. Her family migrated to the United States in 1999, escaping political and economic turmoil at home. Inspired by youth-led protest movements in the US and abroad, Aya spent two summers curating technologies for activists during the Arab Spring protests as a Google intern. In 2012 she helped launch Speak To Tweet, which allowed protesters across Sudan and Ethiopia to tweet using their analog

2016–2017 edition volume 21

phones despite sporadic internet connectivity. As a QuestBridge Scholar at the University of Pennsylvania, Aya conducted independent research on Islamic finance with Andrew Lamas; served as chair of UMOJA, an umbrella organization for student groups of the African diaspora; and was a columnist for the Daily Pennsylvanian. After graduating, she worked with the Asian Women’s Leadership University Project as a Luce Scholar in Malaysia. Aya is a student attorney for the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, president of the Muslim Law Students Association, and a research assistant to Intisar Rabb. She hopes to pursue a career in litigation and community organizing in Muslim and Muslim American communities to challenge security, trade, and foreign policies that violate civil rights and civil liberties.

Mubeen Shakir

Award to support work toward an MD at Harvard Medical School Born in Oklahoma City, Mubeen is the youngest son of Indian Muslim immigrants who came to the United States in the 1970s. Mubeen’s parents founded the first mosque in Oklahoma City and relished the opportunity to not only take part in their own Muslim community but also promote an accepting and diverse society. Health and medicine became a permanent interest in Mubeen’s life at an early age. When he was nine, his father was diagnosed with leukemia and his grandfather suffered a debilitating dementia. His father passed away after a ten-year battle with the

disease, simultaneously illuminating to Mubeen the limitations of modern medicine and all it had afforded his family in a health system where many lacked the same access to care. Mubeen graduated from the University of Oklahoma in three years, winning the university’s highest honor and receiving a Rhodes Scholarship. He went on to earn master’s degrees in medical anthropology and public policy at the University of Oxford. He has worked at the Massachusetts Health Policy Commission and cofounded the Harvard Medical School Racial Justice Coalition, a group committed to improving diversity at the school. Mubeen hopes to improve health systems at the city, state, and national levels, helping to build a more equitable health system and just society.



Vishwajith Sridharan

Award to support work toward an MD/ MBA at MIT and Harvard University Vish was born in South India. Financial difficulty and the need to support an extended family led the Sridharans to settle in the United States when Vish was nine. Through his parents’ example, Vish learned early on to serve as an advocate for others in need. As a high school student, Vish worked at DC Children’s Hospital, where he spent multiple years developing novel HIV vaccine models. He entered the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as a Carolina Scholar and expanded his research interests to cancer. His National Science Foundation– funded work on protein

thermodynamics led to publication in Molecular Cell and Biochemistry. Vish has been keen to work with vulnerable populations across the globe. He has traveled to Uganda and helped set up healthcare infrastructure in rural villages. He has also held an internship with the United Nations, working to develop guidelines for hazardous chemicals management for resource-poor countries. He served as the development director for the Community Empowerment Fund, a Chapel Hill–based nonprofit that provides homeless individuals and foster youth with financial opportunities. Vish is now working toward his MD in the Harvard-MIT Health Sciences and Technology program, where he is investigating immunotherapy in the treatment of cancer. He is also pursuing an MBA at Harvard Business School.

Durga Thakral

Award to support work toward an MD/PhD in genetics at Yale School of Medicine Born in Illinois, Durga is the daughter of Indian immigrants. Her parents came to Chicago in pursuit of education and opportunity. Despite humble beginnings, Durga’s family worked tirelessly to provide a loving and supportive environment, nurturing the cultural value of seva, or selfless service, in the setting of a new community. Durga attended a local public high school, where her admiration for the scientific mysteries of the universe was encouraged by many dedicated teachers and mentors. As an undergraduate

The New American

student in the laboratory of Nobel laureate Thomas Steitz, Durga discovered a novel antibacterial compound. With support from the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation and the Barry Goldwater Scholarship, she earned a combined bachelor’s and master’s degree in molecular biophysics and biochemistry from Yale. In her free time, Durga has dedicated herself to supporting STEM programs for young women and has volunteered countless hours in low-resource clinics. Durga is now an MD/ PhD student in the genetics laboratory of Richard Lifton at Yale. She says that clinical experiences remind her what a joy it is to work with patients, and she hopes to take advantage of the vast and growing power of molecular medicine in her work to improve the human condition and empower others to pursue their dreams.

Yuxi Tian

Award to support work toward an MD/PhD in biomathematics at UCLA Yuxi was born in Germany to Chinese parents who both switched from careers in physics to computer programming to better support their family. After early years with his grandparents in Shanghai, Yuxi moved at age four to be with his parents in Canada; they moved to Southern California four years later. In high school, Yuxi excelled at academic competitions such as Science Olympiad and the USA Mathematical Olympiad. His love of math and science followed him to University of California, Berkeley, where he double-majored in

physics and molecular and cell biology. Yuxi poured himself into every science class he could take and worked as a chemistry research assistant, studying gold nanoparticles with Peidong Yang. He graduated with nineteen A-pluses on his transcript and with the university’s highest distinction in general scholarship. Yuxi is studying biomathematics as part of his MD/PhD education at the University of California, Los Angeles, where he is being mentored by Marc Suchard. He is interested in developing statistical analysis methods for large-scale observational health data sets. In particular, he would like to create efficient solutions for analyzing electronic health records, which have produced an immense quantity of data that can benefit drug safety, comparative effectiveness, and health policy research. Yuxi also wants to help ensure that data analysis is conducted in a computationally efficient and statistically rigorous fashion.

Suan Lian Tuang

background, he was accepted to MIT with full financial aid.

Heidi Vuletich

to move back and forth between the two countries until she started high school. By that time, Heidi had attended sixteen different schools across two cultures and languages. Nevertheless, she dreamed of going to college in the United States.

Award to support work toward a PhD in psychology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Even though Heidi graduated at the top of her high school class, she felt insecure about her ability to succeed in college. As she successfully progressed through college, she realized how powerful psychological barriers can be, and how close she had come to not pursuing dreams she was capable of accomplishing.

At MIT, Tuang developed

Award to support work toward an MD/PhD in chemistry at Harvard University and MIT Tuang was born and raised in rural Burma to parents of the Zomi ethnic group. When he was sixteen, his family immigrated to the United States. After months of seeking employment at the height of the 2008 economic recession, his father finally found work as a grocery bagger. Seeing education as a key to helping his family overcome their socioeconomic situation, Tuang entered high school in Orlando, Florida, as a junior. With the mentorship of his ESL teacher, Jacquelyn Gomez, who instilled in him the belief that he could realize any dream in America despite his

2016–2017 edition volume 21

an interest in chemistry and conducted research in bioinorganic chemistry and systems biology as an Amgen Scholar. He worked in the lab of Stephen Lippard at MIT and the lab of Ralph Weissleder at Massachusetts General Hospital. Tuang sought to implement communitycentered service projects around the world as the president of MIT’s International Development House (iHouse). He also developed a passion for teaching and received the Frederick D. Greene Teaching Award. During his senior year, he was awarded the Albert G. Hill Prize and was featured on the MIT home page. Tuang hopes to combine his chemistry expertise and medical knowledge to treat infectious diseases and neglected tropical diseases.

Heidi is investigating the psychological mechanisms by which socioeconomic status and stereotypes influence youth’s academic motivation and achievement. She is particularly interested in these issues as they pertain to racial- or ethnic-minority or disadvantaged youth, who are underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and math careers. Heidi was born in Chihuahua, Mexico, and moved to the United States at the age of five. Due to her family’s economic instability, however, she continued

Now, as a dual graduate student in the developmental and social psychology programs at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Heidi dedicates her research to understanding the psychological factors that stand in the way of youth.


How Thuy Thi Nguyen’s Parents Raised the First

Thuy’s most important mentor has been her mother: “Her unwavering confidence in me in turn has sustained my own self-confidence.”

The New American

Thuy Thi Nguyen (1999), who came to the

United States as a refugee in the aftermath of the fall of Saigon, recently became the first Vietnamese American


president of a college in the United States.

American College President in the United States

Opposite The Nguyens in front of their house on Saigon Drive in New Orleans. Their neighborhood—Village de L’Est, or “Village of the East”—was a community of Vietnamese refugees.

Introduction and Interview by Nikka Landau

As Thuy Thi Nguyen’s elementary school teachers in New Orleans sent home increasingly complex homework, her eager parents were able to help her less and less. Thuy’s parents had risked everything when they fled Vietnam by boat after the fall of Saigon with their two toddlers, Thuy and her younger brother. They drifted in the Pacific Ocean for more than twenty days before finally being rescued by a commercial ship. They were taken to a Japanese refugee camp and eventually came to the United States.

2016–2017 edition volume 21


When it came to their daughter’s education, Thuy’s parents were on it. They may have lacked the English that was needed to help their eldest with schoolwork, but they did everything in their power to make sure that she had exactly what she needed to succeed—from ideal lighting for her homework to a precisely scheduled commute. The thing that stands out most to Thuy about her parents’ focus on education is the enormous classroom-size blackboard that her father found and brought home to their small apartment. “They weren’t able to teach us, but they were able to provide us with the environment that we needed to be successful,” she explained. “My parents had this philosophy—and it’s both an immigrant and a Vietnamese thing—Đâu xuôi, đuôi lot, which means ‘If the head could get through, so could the tail.’ They focused a lot on me because the belief was that I would pave the way for my younger siblings.” When they heard from their family members who lived in

Top The Nguyen family in Vietnam (Thuy is holding a ball). Shortly after the photo was taken, the family, except for Thuy’s grandmother, left Vietnam. “My parents had a real, fu ndamental belief around freedom—both religious freedom and political freedom,” Thuy says. “They are very principled.”

California that the Golden State had better educational opportunities, Thuy’s parents moved the family to Oakland, where Thuy started high school. Now, nearly twenty-five years later, Thuy is the new president

Inset A Japanese newspaper article describes Thuy’s father, on behalf of his fellow refugees, accepting funds raised by local schoolchildren. Threeyear-old Thuy is in the background. She and her family, f leeing Vietnam, were adrift in the Pacific for more than twenty days before they were rescued.

of Foothill College. She is the first Vietnamese American president of a college in the United States.

The New American

“We weren’t watching a lot of Saturday morning cartoons; instead we were watching Chinese kung fu movies dubbed in Vietnamese.”

course. Nevertheless, my eighth-grade teacher felt that I had the skill set to take the more advanced class with another teacher so she tried to get me in, unsuccessfully, and then later, she had me teach her math class! Ms. Albert . . . God bless her. After arriving in the United States, your family moved between Wichita, New Orleans, and Oakland. Which place sticks out most in your memory?

Can you tell me about yourself as a child? Thuy (back row, in red) with her mother (front row, far left), her brother, and her sister, the first sibling who was born in A merica. Five other children joined the family. The other two women on the steps regularly visited the Nguyens’ home in Wichita, Kansas, where the family spent their first few years in the United States.

I was pretty obedient. I had a little sassiness in me, but generally speaking I did not get in trouble. I was a little bit of a nerd. I loved school. I loved reading. You were more likely to find me in the library reading than at recess. I’m the oldest of eight children so I also had to really help and guide my siblings. Is that how you developed your love of teaching— as the oldest child? I love teaching. I don’t know where it started, but if I can go back to my earliest memory of teaching, it was in eighth grade. My father kept on being laid off from his job in New Orleans so we moved to Lake Charles, but after a year we moved back to be close to our family. As a consequence, I didn’t take the requisite exams to be in a more advanced math

2016–2017 edition volume 21

What’s interesting is that at one point we lived on a street called Saigon Drive in New Orleans. They called the community we lived in Village de L’Est, which means “Village of the East” or “New Orleans East.” The majority of the people in the village were Vietnamese refugees. The community gathered itself and built the first Vietnamese-owned church in America, the first Vietnamese-owned Vietnameselanguage and bible school—and we lived within that community. Streets were named in Vietnamese. As you can imagine, that’s an interesting environment to grow up in. You are in America but very much in a Vietnamese community. We weren’t watching a lot of Saturday morning cartoons; instead we were watching Chinese kung fu movies dubbed in Vietnamese. We were really living an immigrant life in this larger community. What kind of work did your parents do? In the United States, my mom has always been a homemaker. My dad is retired now. He worked as a machinist, construction worker, landscaper, and security guard at different points. What did your parents do when they lived in Vietnam? My mother married a little bit later than was the norm then—at about age twenty-four, which was a


“I have so many mentors and guardians. I call them my guardians because they don’t just tell me and coach me on what to do—they make efforts to open doors for me.”

A s a high school student in Oakland, Thuy was a cadet colonel and a brigade commander in the Army Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps, one of the experiences she credits for her leadership sk i l ls.

Follow Thuy on Twitter at @FoothillPrez

The New American

little bit unusual in Vietnam back then. She was a secretary for the American military. She is still very proud of that because only a few women were selected to work with the American military. My father worked in the Navy. He had natural leadership qualities. He knew a little bit of English and would help with limited translation. What lessons did your parents teach you about leadership and success? My parents didn’t necessarily say to me, “If you want to lead a group of people, this is what you do; read this book.” They didn’t have that kind of formal knowledge. But what they did have and what they did teach me about are the characteristics that make one a good person and the desire to be successful at whatever you do. When we lived in a big low-income apartment complex, my mother would go to each of the units and share the food she had made with our neighbors. She would always be an ear for our neighbors whenever they had problems. And you know, you inevitably model after that when you see a person who is that giving, who isn’t just about me, me, me. My father is such a great thinker. He thinks about policy and politics. He has a very intellectual and curious mind. At dinnertime we always had fascinating conversations about various issues that were happening in the country, in our neighborhood, or even in our daily lives. We would talk about lessons learned from those events, and stories about Vietnam. My parents fled Vietnam because they had a real, fundamental belief around freedom— both religious freedom and political freedom. They strongly believe in a free society and in human rights. They are very principled. Those were the kinds of things that we talked about. Those discussions really shaped me.

was the mayor of Oakland, and then he became the chancellor of the Peralta Community College District. He audaciously called me when I was twenty-eight years old and asked if I wanted to come over and be the interim general counsel of Peralta. I was barely out of law school! A year after I started, I became the permanent general counsel. I was at Peralta for over eleven years. He just opened that door and has guided me throughout the years. After a certain point, he said, “Thuy, you’ve seen a lot, and you’ve contributed enormously to Peralta as a lawyer, but it’s time for you to go out there and let the world know who you are too.” That really pushed me. He was the one who first suggested that I be a college president. At that time I said, “That’s okay—I’ll remain a lawyer.” But clearly he planted that seed, and it grew. What will your first priority as the Foothill College president be? My highest priority will be student equity and making sure that all of our students are successful, not just a few. Whatever challenges that they come with, I want to ensure that we will be able to help them succeed. There’s a tremendous amount of social justice in that—just making sure that success is for all. What advice do you have for immigrants and refugees who are picking a college or university? Community college is such an incredible opportunity for immigrants and refugees, especially if they came to the United States later in life. Community college is a place of first chances, second chances, and last chances. That’s why I say, “There’s nothing more American than community college.” It’s open to everyone, and it supports everyone regardless of socioeconomic background. You received the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship when you were in law school at UCLA. What is your impression of the mission of the Fellowships now?

Who have your mentors been? I have so many mentors and guardians. I call them my guardians because they don’t just tell me and coach me on what to do—they make efforts to open doors for me. My all-time mentor is my mother, though. Her unwavering confidence in me in turn has sustained my own self-confidence.

I am thankful that Paul and Daisy Soros, in their wisdom, appreciated the importance of immigrants and understood that education is key to unlocking the full potential of immigrants. The success of the Fellows is so critical to the conversation around our country with regard to recognizing the contributions that immigrants make.

I also have a guardian and coach, Elihu Harris. He

This interview originally appeared on

2016–2017 edition volume 21


Mom’s A na Muñoz’s mom, Beatriz Mejia Muñoz, was born in Medellín, Colombia. She immigrated to the United States in 1975. A na is currently the Joh n J. Gibbons Fellow in Public Interest & Constitutional Law for the 2014–2016 term.

“Calma. Paciencia. Fuerza. Take a deep breath. Know that life is long, and trust yourself to work it out.” —Beatriz Mejia Muñoz, mother of A na Muñoz (2008)

“You can do anything. And you pick what that anything is.” —Larisa Shapiro, mother of Mikhail Shapiro (2004)

Mikhail Shapiro is an assistant professor of chem ica l eng i neer i ng at t he California Institute of Technology, the head of the Shapiro Lab, and a Pew Scholar. He was born in Kolomna, Russia, where his mother, Larisa, was also born and raised. Their family i m m ig rated to t he Un ited States i n 1992. Larisa is a painter and former art teacher.

The New American


paul & daisy soros fellows reflect

on their mothers ’ best a dvice

Sangu Delle is an immigrant from Ghana and an entrepreneur, author, clean water activist, and T EDGlobal Fellow. He immigrated to the United States for high school. His mother, A mira Delle, was born in Accra, Ghana, where she currently lives.

“Kristina, never marry a man whom you need to drag behind you in life. It’s too exhausting.” —Natalia Garibian, mother of Kristina Filipovich (2005)

“Before you go to bed, look in the mirror and ask yourself, ‘What have I accomplished today?’ If you’re not satisfied with the answer, don’t sleep.” —A mira Delle, mother of Sangu Delle (2013)

2016–2017 edition volume 21

Kristina Filipovich’s mother, Natalia, was born to Ukrainian parents in a refugee camp in Italy during World War ll and immigrated to the United States in 1951. Natalia was a high school English and creative writing teacher and her hobbies included theater, her book g roup, and a muli-year protest of the Iraq War. She passed away last year. Kristina is an adjunct professor of law at A merican University in Washington, DC, and a consultant on gender issues and international development.


Elahe, Lilian Mehrel’s mother, is a relationship counselor dedicated to creating peace in the world, one family at a time. A Kurd from Iran, she became a US citizen in 1991 and lives in Miami. Elahe filmed poetic videos of Miami sunrises and birds before handing her camera over to teenage Lilian, who is now an MFA candidate at the Tisch School of the Arts graduate film program at New York University. She creates films, i l lustrated book s, a nd virtual reality experiences.

“When you encounter someone who seems to have the life you want, take a moment to feel happy for them and to sense it in your body— then the thing you want already has a home where you felt that happiness once.” —Elahe Mehrel, mother of Lilian Mehrel (2013), on her own mother’s advice

Dennis Tseng’s mother, Millie, was born in Guangdong, Ch i na, a nd i m m ig rated to Oakland, California, when she was sixteen. Dennis, who is the talent manager at SY Partners, a design consu lta ncy i n Sa n F ra ncisco, counts his mother as his biggest hero.

“If you want to be an actor, be an actor! Just be in love with what you do. Because if you are happy, I know in my heart that you will be successful.” —Millie Tseng, mother of Dennis Tseng (2013)

The New American

Eva Luo is Chinese A merican and an ob-gyn resident at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. Her mother, Weina, was born in Shanghai and immigrated to the United States over thirty years ago. She lives in Boca Raton, Florida.

“Nothing is difficult on this earth if your mind is set.” —Weina Luo, mother of Eva Luo (2012)

Cesar Francia was born in Caracas, Venezuela, and came to this country with his mother, Maria, when he was fourteen and she was fifty-four. She lives in Union City, New Jersey, and he is an associate in A rent Fox’s New York office.

“The recipe for success is humility, perseverance, and family unity.” —Maria Rivero, mother of Cesar Francia (2011)

2016–2017 edition volume 21


Andrei Cherny, the son of Czechoslovakian immigrants, is a former White House speechwriter,

former Arizona assistant attorney general, and the

founder and CEO of Aspiration, a new kind

of financial firm: one for the middle class.

A ndrei Cherny and his mother on July 4, 1976, in Los A ngeles. A ndrei’s parents emigrated from Czechoslovakia a few years before he was born.

The New American

The Most


Americans By Andrei Cherny (2000)

It was a ghost town. We got off the bus in Lower Manhattan and walked silently down the sidewalks of still, quiet streets. On the building walls, there were hundreds of photocopied handbills— the kind of “missing” posters one usually sees when a pet dog or cat has wandered off. But these had been placed there in mid-September 2001 by parents and spouses and children. They were desperate prayers that their loved ones be found and returned to their homes. And now, as more weeks passed and the fall turned colder, they stood as yellowed, weathered reproaches; symbols of hopelessness as opposed to a final hope. Because the sons and wives and fathers and mothers had not wandered off. They were not just missing. And they would not be returning home. The gray powder that covered the ground we walked on was not just pulverized concrete. It was ash.

2016–2017 edition volume 21


Left to right Cover art from A ndrei’s 2009 book, The Candy Bombers: The Untold Story of the Berlin Airlift and America’s Finest Hour. On the campaign trail with Barack Obama in 2008. Photo: Callie Shell. His parents were both children of concentration camp survivors and grew up in Communist Czechoslovakia. A ndrei’s desire to find ways to serve took him from a Cub Scout to eight years as an officer in the Navy Reserve.

That Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships Fall Conference fifteen years ago was a somber one. Certainly, we were in a city and country still fundamentally shaken. And the experience of walking amid the ruins was searing and unforgettable. But there was something more personal as well. The target had not just been the Twin Towers; it was an attack on us— or rather on the idea that we had been brought together to represent. The idea is at the heart of the Fellowships, and it represents the best of our national experience. It holds that there is no one “truth,” that we come from all parts of the globe bringing different views and traditions. And at the same time, that we are not defined by the history our families left behind; that there are universal beliefs that bind us together. This idea that pluralism and unity go hand in hand— e pluribus unum—means we can be both “New” and “American” and that putting those words together is being consistent and not contradictory. This notion clashed with the 9/11 attackers’ vision for homogeneity and sectarianism just as it does with those contemporary native voices who would have us believe a person’s actions are essentially defined by their religion or their ethnicity. But though it has always been contested, this idea is also elemental. “What, then, is the American, this new man?” asked French immigrant farmer J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur in 1782. He answered his own question: “The American is a new man, who acts upon new principles; he must therefore entertain new ideas, and form new opinions.”

The New American

If that inventiveness and innovation are essential to Americans, then it is immigrants and children of immigrants who are the most paradigmatic Americans of all. They founded Apple, Amazon, eBay, IBM, GE, and Google. They invented basketball, and hot dogs, and the telephone. They gave us Mickey Mouse and McDonald’s, the Bank of America and “God Bless America.” As much appropriate discussion as there is of the rights of immigrants, there is far too little conversation about how New Americans live up to their unique responsibilities to bring their striving spirit to the nation. Numerous studies show they study more and work harder. The reasons go deeper than family pressure or economic need. So many New Americans feel a duty to contribute, to make a mark, to muscle their way into the center of the story. My parents grew up in Communist Czechoslovakia as the children of concentration camp survivors. America gave them a home just a couple of years before I was born. I grew up in an apartment building in Los Angeles, where our neighbors and best friends came from Guatemala and Jamaica and Japan. From the time I was young, I felt a profound sense of gratitude and an immense desire to weave my own life into the fabric of America. From public service to military service to writing works of American history to my present work with Aspiration, I’ve searched

Follow Andrei on Twitter at @AndreiCherny

for ways to make a contribution and a connection. My story is not exceptional. In fact, what makes it noteworthy is that it is so commonplace.

The idea is at the heart of the Fellowships, and it represents the best of our national experience. It holds that there is no one “truth,” that we come from all parts of the globe bringing different views and traditions.

To spend time with new Paul & Daisy Soros Fellows or to serve on interview panels or to merely leaf through the bios of incoming classes is to be at once supremely humbled and extremely reassured about the future. And to get to observe now nearly two decades of Fellows advance through their lives is to see the true engine of national greatness at work. Physicists and physicians. Playwrights and poets and pianists. Ambassadors and professors and producers and public interest lawyers. CEOs and scientists and surgeons and even a surgeon general. The achievements are awesome. They should be rightfully celebrated. They are just a preview of what past and future Fellows are yet to achieve. But these accomplishments, in and of themselves, do not define the immigrant experience. Rather, what’s most indispensable is the striving and searching that power the accomplishment. That struggle is the universal experience of immigrants in America. Paul & Daisy Soros Fellows are chosen for the honor at a moment when they are accumulating multiple degrees from America’s esteemed institutions of higher education, but rewind the clock on their and their families’ lives for a generation, or even often just a few years,

2016–2017 edition volume 21


Calling someone a New American is really just saying the same thing twice. It is America’s immigrants who are in so many ways the most American Americans of all. and you see that same determination going in to learning an unfamiliar new language or working a day job while still exhausted from having pulled the night shift. That grit and resolve is the through-line of the New American experience. It is what connects the Fellow celebrating in her cap and gown to those who sweep up long after the graduation festivities are over; it unites together those who landed at Ellis Island and those who land at LAX; it binds together those whose homes we visit at the Tenement Museum on Orchard Street to those who live today in crowded apartments spilling over with foreign tongues just a few blocks away; it is the link between those who cut a clearing in the wilderness after landing on the Mayf lower and those arriving in 2016 after a harrowing journey across the Mediterranean; it is the story of a refugee from a war-torn land who came to America with $17 in his pocket and turned it into a fortune that he, together with his wife, Daisy, would eventually use to give other young immigrants and children of immigrants their own chance at opportunity. That relentless effort, that spirit of invention and reinvention, is what is definitional in the American character. And it is found most of all in the newest Americans. Calling someone a New American is really just saying the same thing twice. It is America’s immigrants who are in so many ways the most American Americans of all. And it is they who today, as they have throughout our past, are making America great again...and again, and again.

The New American

Right A ndrei and his wife, Stephanie, have two children and live in Phoenix. Below A ndrei (right) and Nusrat Choudhury (2004) discussed building a public voice at the 2015 Fall Conference. Photo: Christopher Smith.

2016–2017 edition volume 21


Kao Kalia Yang (2003) is a teacher, public speaker, and writer.

Kalia is the author of the award-winning books

The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir and the The Song Poet: A Memoir of My Father, excerpted here. She is a graduate of Carleton College and

the Song an excerpt from the memoir by Kao Kalia Yang (2003)

The New American

Columbia University’s School of the Arts.

2016–2017 edition volume 21


Introduction by Nikka Landau

Growing up in a refugee camp in Thailand, Kao Kalia Yang (2003) relied on her father’s stories to transport her to the world beyond the gates. Perched on his shoulders, Kalia

would listen to his memories of growing up in Phou Khao, a village in the high mountains of northeastern Laos. He would tell her about life before the Vietnam War, before thousands upon thousands of Hmongs were recruited to do the United States’ bidding in their fight against Communism.

The New American

He would tell her about life before he watched his village burn and took to life in the jungle. Living in a nearly microscopic camp along with some 40,000 fellow Hmongs, Kalia’s father’s stories helped everyone cope as they waited years for justice in the form of asylum. “My father grew to become a young man in the jungles, no shoes on his feet, communal belongings on his back,” Kalia explained. “It was in the jungles that he met my mother and married her. He was nineteen years old when he crossed the Mekong River with my mother, my sister, and my grandmother, into Thailand, where they waited in the refugee camp for a future to begin.”

Previous spread Bee Yang with his daughters. Bee is the subject of Kao Kalia Yang’s new book, The Song Poet. Left Ka l ia’s u ncle, Eng Ya ng, stands on the far right in this picture at the Ban Vinai Refugee Camp in Thailand. Eng worked to document the experiences of the Hmong people. Photo: The Yang Family. Inset The Yang family. Kalia’s father’s stories about life before the Vietnam War helped their fellow refugees in the camp survive. This page Kalia and her father. Photo: Brian Peterson/Star Tribune.

That future didn’t come until July 27, 1987, six years later, when the family moved into a housing project in Minneapolis—a far cry from anything they, or any of the other thousands of Hmong families who were relocated there, were familiar with. Kalia’s father began work in a factory, and a new life took shape. Now, decades later, Kalia is an author, activist, professor, and mother of three children of her own. Her newest book, The Song Poet, which came out in the spring of 2016, chronicles her father’s life from Laos to Thailand to the United States. While Kalia’s family embodies the American dream in many ways, Kalia is telling a much larger story. Like many Hmongs, her father lost a village, a community, and a country, and somehow that history is lost in the United States, their new home. To tell this complex story, Kalia is armed with the Hmong tradition of song poetry, kwv txhiaj, which she compares to a mix of jazz, blues, and rap. She employs Ralph Ellison’s description of the blues to help understand Hmong song poetry. Ellison described the blues as “an impulse to keep the painful details and episodes of a brutal experience alive in one’s aching consciousness, to finger its jagged grain, and to transcend it, not by the consolation of philosophy but by squeezing from it a near-tragic, near-comic lyricism.” Kalia’s father, as a song poet, was responsible for documenting the life and times of his community when he was growing up. His father died when he was young so he would visit with his neighbors, listen to their stories, and begin to weave them together. “For the Hmong, the song poet records and recounts the stories of his people, our history and tragedies, joys and losses; he keeps the past alive and the present in perspective,” Kalia explained.

2016–2017 edition volume 21

“It is not the easiest to be loved for your best self, to be pushed for your furthest possibilities— all the time. It is hard to imagine who I am without my father’s presence, his tireless guidance, his long reach.” This was an extraordinary skill as a father, in the refugee camp, and in the United States, when it was even more important to keep the history alive. Storytelling was only one of Kalia’s father’s talents though. Having grown up without his own father, he has always tried to be the dad he imagined for himself. “His expectations of himself and his children are high,” Kalia said. “It is not the easiest to be loved for your best self, to be pushed for your furthest possibilities—all the time. It is hard to imagine who I am without my father’s presence, his tireless guidance, his long reach.” When asked what she has learned from her father, Kalia has a hard time pinpointing just one thing. “What haven’t I learned?” she replies. “If I take into account all that I am and all that my father is, not in some distant future or faraway past, but right now in the middle of a cold Minnesota winter, hovering in our homes hoping for the happy that comes with spring...I’ve learned how to still my fluttering heart, to hold my hopes close and to cherish the joys of home in a world that can be so harsh.” This story originally appeared on


Inset In the Ban Vinai Refugee Camp in 1983. Below Kalia and her father in Minnesota, where they now live. Photo: Brian Peterson /Star Tribune.

The National Endowment for the Arts has added Kalia’s The Latehomecomer to the 2017–2018 NEA Big Read list.

The New American

The excerpt below from Kao Kalia Yang’s The Song Poet: A Memoir of My Father is reproduced with permission of the author:

In America, we lived in cement housing projects in Minnesota, walked between walls of frozen

snow, huddled in jackets that did not fit, shoulders hunched high against the bitter cold as we made our way to the loud, jarring factories. In America, we lived in cramped shacks and falling-down houses in California, worked in the expanse of green fields, walked beside irrigation canals full of murky water, our weathered feet in flip flops and our callused hands gripping the ends of gardening hoes. Our children went to school. Sometimes, they sat at the table, heads in between their open hands, tears soaking the open books before them, exhausted and beaten by the words they could not understand, formulas they could not figure. The saddest, though, is what happened to our wives. They took off the sarongs of Southeast Asia. Many cut off their long hair. They clipped the silken strands away from their haggard faces each day, made their way to work alongside men and women who yelled at them to hurry up, to meet the quota, to quicken the pace, to unfurl their cracked fingers and stand taller on their broken heels. In America, brothers and sisters lived apart. They called on telephone lines, stretched across the wide continent. As far as the eye could see, a person could trace the tall poles, the length of fiber in between, the silent songs of love and yearning carried across the endless miles.

2016–2017 edition volume 21


On his family’s heritage and meeting Paul and Daisy Soros


My family on both sides are Tennessee people who came from European—mostly English, Irish, and Scottish—backgrounds. My awareness of the immigration issues and the New American idea started with my friendship with Paul and Daisy Soros. We met in New Canaan, Connecticut, where Paul and Daisy lived; I moved there in 1972, and we became friends. Paul and Daisy met at the International House, and we were all active there on the board.

Q&A David McKinney

On the beginnings of the Fellowships When Paul and Daisy were starting this program, they asked Warren Ilchman to be the first director. When I joined the board, Warren had been on board for about two months, putting the program together. It was amazing: the class of 1998, the first class of Fellows, was selected in six months. The first class of Fellows is making a significant impact all over the country. On the early and lasting vision of the program

From Small-Town Tennessee to IBM Salesman to Leader of IBM Europe: Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships Trustee David McKinney Talks Innovation, Immigration, and Interviewing—and How to Join a Nonprofit Board

it ’s hard to know what title to lead with to cover David E. McKinney’s life. After all, he spent thirty-six years working his way from the bottom to the top of IBM and, after retiring, led the Metropolitan Museum of Art, along with a handful of other organizations. As a recipient of a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship and a Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship, I’m most fond of his work as a Trustee of both organizations. I got to talk with him in the summer of 2016. Here are some highlights from our conversation.

The New American

The Board was a talented and experienced group of people. Everyone contributed their ideas. It was very much a collaborative effort. Paul and Daisy had a very clear idea of what they wanted. They were very open and listened. When you’re in a room with talented people, it’s hard for anyone to take ownership. However, the guiding light, and the person who stood fast on the basic idea, was Paul. He was firm on the idea that the Fellowships would be on merit, that the program would be for New Americans, and that it ought to stress the potential contributions of New Americans to the dedication to the ideals of America. It was very important to him that immigrants who had come to live in the United States should be thinking about how they could give back—this requirement is still reflected in the application today. On Daisy Soros’s leadership The vision and promise of the Fellowships have been very important in its development. In addition, much of the success of the program is due to the personal involvement of Daisy Soros. Daisy has entertained every class in her home, she has interviewed members of all of the classes, she

On individual fellowship programs

“We are a nation of immigrants, but it is going to be much more truly a melting pot than it has been in the past. We need all the talent we can get.”

We’re in a period of transition in this country as to the ethnic makeup of the population. It is going to be interesting to see how that transition takes place. It has been, for the most part, civil in its progress. I think universities are leading the way to that. It is not easy. We are a nation of immigrants, but it is going to be much more truly a melting pot than it has been in the past. I think we need all the talent we can get. We need the future leaders these fellowship programs are developing. On career advice for young Fellows

attends each of the conference events, and she has taken part in the selection of each of the Trustees. Daisy has made the Fellowships a personal and human institution.

Develop an open mind and attitude and willingness to change and adapt to your environment. Decide what you love to do, learn the necessary skills, and then try to stay relevant and therefore add value.

On reflections from the annual finalist interviews On how to join a nonprofit board What always strikes me is the capability of the finalists and the stories of their lives. Often the finalists or their parents have come from very difficult circumstances; they had to leave their homes with very little financial means and, in many cases, broken families. Despite these troubled backgrounds, they will be or have been accepted to some of the best graduate schools in the United States. On what he is looking for in finalists One of the things that I think is interesting and that we look for in interviews is the trajectory of the applicant’s career. There may be one student who has parents with PhDs and who interviews well and ranks well in school and has had a privileged life. And the next person may be someone from a broken family who grew up in a dangerous situation and who essentially made his own way. If the accomplishments are similar, then the person who has come the farthest may make the best candidate. On Fellows who have stood out In the most recent Fellows in the News e-mail, there was an article by Fellow Jeannie Suk; she wrote a New Yorker article on the issue of transgender bathroom laws in North Carolina. She is now an example of the achievement of our Fellows as a tenured Harvard Law professor and a contributor to one of the most important periodicals in the country.

2016–2017 edition volume 21

The way you do that is by getting involved at the grassroots level. Be a part of the United Way or be a volunteer in your community. I think we all have a tendency to want to start at the top, but the way to be a good board member is to start by being a volunteer at the local YMCA or Boys & Girls Club, being a Cub Scout leader or a member of the PTA, and being a community supporter. Start at the bottom, and you’re going to be much more effective. Just as you wouldn’t expect to start at General Motors on the board, the time to start planning for civic engagement and being on nonprofit boards is twenty years earlier. On the relevance of immigration and the Fellowships Paul and his brother were essentially political asylum seekers who were escaping oppressive regimes, and that is what many are escaping from today. It is one of the most important, politically charged issues in the world today. We’re certainly on the right subject.

Interview by Kristina Filipovich (2005), adjunct professor of law at American University in Washington, DC, and a consultant on gender issues and international development.


On change in the business world


I think there is broad and real concern among the leaders of big business and boards of directors, and sympathy with the idea that shareholder primacy has gone too far, with all of the corporate raiders and this “Give me one more dollar for this stock and I’ll sell you to the devil” type thing. We need to go back to taking all of the other constituencies—starting with employees—into account, beginning with the old idea that employees should be a company’s competitive advantage and not simply an input. This is the kind of change that must be led by the business community because you can’t regulate this kind of thing.

Q&A N.J. Nicholas Jr.

On how he got involved with the Fellowships

How the Leader of Time and Time Warner Turned

Daisy and I were sitting next to each other at a dinner party, and she suddenly asked, “Are you an immigrant?” She had caught something in the conversation earlier. And I explained that I’m first generation. My parents were both immigrants, and I consider myself, while not an immigrant, someone who is very comfortable, indeed enthusiastic, with the idea of this country being not only a place where immigrants have prospered but where they have basically driven our success, going all the way back to the beginning.

N.J. Nicholas Jr. Discusses the

The answer is that I just connect to the whole immigrant idea very comfortably: that the more talent we can help bring in, educate, and make comfortable is a good thing, that it’s not only a good thing but that we ought to be doing a lot more of it.

Politics of Hope in 2016

On what he looks for in finalists

into an Environmentalist: Paul & Daisy Soros Trustee

before we had barely said our hellos, N.J. Nicholas Jr. and I were off to the races on politics when we talked by phone last spring. The former head of Time Inc. and Time Warner Inc., Nicholas is a former trustee of the Environmental Defense Fund and one of the leaders of the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University, where I received my PhD. I was eager to quiz him about the state of the world and how his environmental work informs his worldview. Here are a few highlights from our conversation.

The New American

Of course all the finalists are bright and accomplished and have compelling stories. It’s somebody who just captures me. I’m saying, “Gee, I want to spend time with this person. I’d like to sit next to them at dinner and find out what it’s like to have done XYZ.” On how being descended from immigrants helped him succeed It’s complicated a bit by the fact that my father spent his life in military service. He went to the US Naval Academy because a) he loved the idea of it, and b) it was tuition free. He entered the school in 1928. I grew up moving every, say, two years. We moved to the East Coast, the West Coast, overseas—always

somewhere on the water where there was a naval facility. We were a fairly hardy bunch; you almost have to be, or it’s bred into you along the way. I don’t think I really appreciated the whole immigrant side of my mentality emotionally, intellectually, until a couple of years before college. I wasn’t an immigrant, and I didn’t have two languages. I lived around Navy people on naval bases: they all spoke the same language I did; they all looked the same for the most part. It has a lot to do with what happened to me later in business—the drive, the wanting to pay back my grandparents, all of the things that go through your mind. It wasn’t that I had to be X or Y or whatever. It was a certain amount of persistence that I still have. It was just, “Turn the screw, half a turn, every day.” You work in the environmental movement. That’s not a job for the lazy. If you can’t push a rock up a hill, don’t get into the environmental movement, because you have to be able to deal with it.

but I think you have the wrong person. I have zero knowledge or experience to add to this.” He called back and said, “Would you consider trying it for a couple of meetings?” What do you say when a president asks for your help? On the environmental issues he is most aligned with The first thing that really appeals to me about the Environmental Defense Fund is that they’re very ecumenical. They like to get everyone around the table. They aren’t lawsuit oriented. The first thing you do is to get everybody around the table, the people for and against, and the science community. The idea is to look for a solution that will be enduring because the principal players all have a part in fashioning the solution. The second point is that they believe in market-driven solutions. I love to look for solutions that have a science, legal, and economic component to them, and where the principal players, the people who are supposedly going to benefit or get hurt, are signatories. I like solutions. On hope and success in the US

“I don’t think I really appreciated the whole immigrant side of my mentality emotionally, intellectually, until a couple of years before college.”

On how he became an environmentalist This will probably surprise you. Who are the two American presidents with the best environmental records? I would not grade you highly if you did not say Richard Nixon first, because he recognized the need in Washington to focus on these issues, and he formed the EPA, which did not exist. The second was George H. W. Bush, who is a committed environmentalist and conservationist, as is his spouse. The 1990 Clean Air Act amendments were a seminal achievement. That was achieved, by the way, with broad bipartisan support, and it’s the foundation of everything that President Obama is doing in terms of clean power. President Bush, whom I knew, invited me to join his Commission on Environmental Quality. I said, “Thank you,

2016–2017 edition volume 21

I am hopeful, but I am more anxious about my grandchildren—the opportunities they’ll have and the society they’ll live in and be a part of. It used to be something that I thought, “Well, it will happen.” Now there’s a higher risk premium on my hopefulness. I told one of my sons-in-law that the key to the next ten to twenty years in this country is not just jobs, but good jobs in the eye of the beholder, the person who is employed. It has to be done by selective deregulation and constructive engagement of our political leaders with the private sector. We’ve got regulations that go back to the 1920s and 1930s. The media industry is regulated by legislation that was intended to regulate a telegraph system that doesn’t exist anymore. It’s ridiculous, and it stifles innovation and capital spending in so many ways. It makes me crazy when I see examples of this. There are two and a half million jobs in the United States available today where the employer can’t find the talent needed.

Interview by Valerie Hickey (2005), the practice manager of the World Bank Group’s Environment and Natural Resources Global Practice.


“Fellows Kuong Ly, Leda Bloomfield, Jack Li, and Val Bolotnyy (2013) were part of my wedding this past May in Boston. Leda’s beautiful daughter, Oona, was our flower girl. Thanks to Kuong, I was never without a glass of champagne in my hand; he even got my 80-year-old grandmother visiting from South Korea to dance with us!” —Dana Da Eun Im (2013)

“Nina Shen Rastogi (2007) is an acclaimed popculture arbiter and lady businessman. She’s also like a big sister to me. She and I grew up several blocks from each other in a sleepy, suburban corner of San Jose, California, and having her at my wedding last fall was like having that proud sibling who just goes nuts for you. She’s always been that way for me, including when I told her I was to be a Paul & Daisy Soros Fellow. She was thrilled—thrilled for the accomplishment but, more crucially, thrilled for me to join a community that remains, to this day, like a family to me.” —Dennis Tseng (2013)

“I met my wife, Andrea, through Sunny Kishore (2008). Andrea and I actually started working remotely together for a Liberian health NGO without having ever met in person. Eventually, Sunny suggested we all attend a conference at Harvard, and I offered my apartment for everyone to crash. Sunny ended up not being able to make it, but Andrea did...and the rest is history. Andrea and I have now been happily married for five and a half years and have a three-year-old son.” —Eric Feigl-Ding (2008)

The New American


Fellows Association The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships have always been about more than just recognizing accomplishment. It celebrates Fellows as whole, complicated people—our history, our passions, our challenges, and our setbacks. That’s what makes the friendships that spring from this community so special. This year, we wanted to capture the spirit of those personal connections, with a few stories from across Fellowship classes.

“Jason Kim (2011) writes a lot of crazy things, including operas about drag queens. When Legendary premiered at Manhattan School of Music, a group of us New York Fellows went to check it out and then had a toast to the LGBTQ community! A couple months later, when Sina Kian (2009) moved from Washington, DC, to NYC, we all celebrated his arrival by eating a grotesque amount of food at Mission Chinese.” — Cesar Francia (2011)

“Since meeting nine years ago through the Fellowships, we have drunk, talked, drunk and talked, shared our favorite books, praised each other’s taste, met each other’s partners, praised each other’s taste again, eaten long brunches, avoided long hikes, quoted sad poetry, made absurdist jokes, dreamed of Totoro and Marilynne Robinson hugging, attempted to have a conversation with only monosyllabic words, pondered the versatility of the pancake, traveled to each other’s weddings, traveled across Paris to find the perfect croissant, cheered each other on in every way, and, in short, found a lifelong friendship. And we’ve done this all without ever living in the same city. ” —Dror Ladin (2007) and Michelle Kuo (2007)

2016–2017 edition volume 21



Driving without a License

By Lera Auerbach

Janine Joseph (2009)


A lice James Books · May 2016

Arch Street Press January 2015

Celebrated composer, poet, concert pianist, and visual artist Lera Auerbach moves seamlessly between multiple art forms. In July the BBC Proms hosted the premiere of Lera’s Symphony No. 3 in London, and in 2017 the New York Philharmonic will perform the world premiere of her Violin Concerto No. 4, written for the orchestra’s 175th anniversary. But she is equally fluent with the written word, as her new book of aphorisms, Excess of Being, attests.

Janine Joseph didn’t know she was undocumented until she started applying to college. The news quickly took over her life. Now, years later, Janine is a citizen, and her book of poetry, Driving without a License, has received the Kundiman Poetry Prize and praise from coast to coast. Janine is an assistant professor of creative writing at Oklahoma State University.

International Law Frameworks— Fourth Edition David J. Bederman and Chimène I. Keitner (2001) Foundation Press · February 2016

The Paleovedic Diet: A Complete Program to Burn Fat, Increase Energy, and Reverse Disease

Chimène Keitner, the Alfred and Hanna Fromm Chair in International and Comparative Law at UC Hastings, is a coauthor of the newest edition of International Law Frameworks, a widely used text on international law. When the author, David Bederman, passed away in 2011 and the publisher asked Chimène to revise and update the book, she was honored and ready to take on the challenge. “I love this book because people can pick it up and read it from cover to cover to gain a more accurate understanding and appreciation of international law,” explained Chimène, who grew up binationally and whose father’s family fled Hungary in 1956.

Akil Palanisamy (1998) Skyhorse Publishing · January 2016

Akil Palanisamy, who immigrated to the United States from India during his high school years, has made it his life’s work to help people find the best in conventional medicine and alternative therapies. In his new book, The Paleovedic Diet, Akil gives readers everything they need to know about a healthy paleo diet, but he also provides them with the best of Ayurveda, a traditional medicine system of India. The result is a book that will help anyone, whether they are ready for a full diet change or not, find more healthy habits that will improve their mind, body, and spirit.

The New American

Dying and Living in the Neighborhood: A StreetLevel View of America’s Healthcare Promise Prabhjot Singh (2005) Johns Hopkins University Press · September 2016

After serving in the US military, Ray moved to East Harlem, where life never quite took off—he had trouble finding a job, struggled with several chronic illnesses, and mostly kept to himself. A web of institutions and systems had let Ray down by the time he found his way into Prabhjot Singh’s medical care in 2011. Prabhjot tells Ray’s story and dives into the myth that we have created in the United States that healthcare can and should happen only in the doctor’s office and hospital.

2016–2017 edition volume 21


The New American 2016–2017 edition volume xxi the paul & daisy soros fellowships for new americans

Follow us on social media to learn about our Fellows in real time. These sites are also a great place to learn about the Fellowships’ application process and the ins and outs of applying. To find this issue online, visit

The New American